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‘For the Time Being’ (2003) - Rachel Cornish

The following includes excerpts from a commentary written to summarise the inspiration behind some of Rachel Cornish’s early works:-

Heidegger’s philosophy on ‘to be’
Ancient Wisdom

Heidegger's philosophy on ‘to be’

‘We do not know what ‘Being’ means. But even if we ask, ‘What is “Being”?, we keep within an understanding of the ‘is’, though we are unable to fix conceptionally [sic] what that ‘is’ signifies’

(Heidegger 1962, p.25)

One of Heidegger’s main quests was to understand more fully, the meaning of ‘to be’. Already a question arises about the word ‘is’ and its use. The terms ‘he is’ and ‘a stone ‘is’, differ fundamentally in that when used in relation to a human being, part of the ‘is’ is referring to consciousness.

Heidegger’s main work, ‘Being and Time’, was first published in 1927. He explores in this the meaning of ‘to be’ in relation to human ‘being’.

In the 1920’s Heidegger spent much of his time living in a small wooden house in the woods examining ‘being’ while he went about his everyday activities. By examining actions such as the hammering of a nail, he slowly built up his theory.

‘We are ourselves the entities to be analysed’
(Heidegger 1962, p.42)


Stimulated by Heidegger’s approach, Cornish set out to look at her own being.

‘I was finally at a point at which I was able to create work. I began with looking at my own being, using mundane everydayness, just as Heidegger did himself in his attempt to analyse being.’
(Cornish 2002b)

It was at this point that the video ‘In Memory of Being and Time’ was made. This is a work in which the relationship between what has already happened and what is going to happen, becomes the subject.



Dasein means ‘being there’ (or ‘being here’). Heidegger used dasein to represent the human experience of being (being there in the world, aware of being)

‘In determining itself as an entity, Dasein always does so in the light of a possibility which it is itself and which, in its very being, it somehow understands.’
(Heidegger 1962, p.69)

At any point dasein is dealing with the past, from where it has come from. This Heidegger refers to as ‘Throwness’. Simultaneously dasein is always ahead of itself projecting itself into the future. This Heidegger refers to as ‘projection’ or ‘possibility’. Fallenness is the word he uses to encompass what is happening in the present i.e. what life is presenting and concerns that arise. Existence is therefore a state of being thrown into possibility.

‘Dasein bursts asunder into past, present , and future and then pulls itself together again - more like a piece of elastic than beads on a string.’
(Inwood 1997, p.91)

This idea of ‘throwness’ and ‘possibility’ or ‘projection’, led to the making of the piece, ‘Simultaneity’.

‘I am the point that has arrived from where it has been and I am the point from which I am going. I am doing all this simultaneously.’
(Cornish 2002a, p.32)

The work ‘In Time’ was also inspired by the ideas of throwness and projection. The point of light spells out the word ‘now’ repeatedly, but the viewer cannot make sense of this without remembering what has preceded it, and what is likely to follow. The word itself raises questions of what is meant by ‘now’.

‘If it is repeated over and over again then not only is it remembered, but it is projected and will therefore express what I am trying to demonstrate as past and future projections actually create now - even though the word itself never appears.’
(Cornish 2002a, p.32)

Without the throwness and projection, Dasein does not exist, just like the ‘now’ in ‘In Time’

‘Just as Dasein is already its “not - yets”, and is its “not - yet” constantly as long as it is, it is already its end too.’
(Heidegger 1962, p.289)

Some of Heidegger's sentences (as interpreted) indicate the limits of language in defining something that evades definition.

‘The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao’
(Lao Tzu 1993, p.27)

Dasein is a complex idea, because what lies between past and future cannot be independent from the same. Being and time are together. Dasein ‘is’ in time.



‘Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
(Eliot 1969, p.13)

Heidegger studied Dasein not as separate to but alongside time, which he referred to as the horizon upon which the past (throwness), the present circumstances (Fallenness) and the future (projection or possibility) lie.

‘Time must be brought to light - and genuinely conceived as the horizon for all understanding of Being and for any way of interpreting it. In order for us to discern this, time needs to be explicated primordially as the horizon for the understanding of Being, and in terms of temporality as the Being of Dasein, whilst understanding Being’
(Heidegger 1962, p. 39)

The work ‘Simultaneity’ is quite a complex piece based on manipulating linear time as the characteristics of time are explored. There are many layers of interpretation, but fundamentally the idea of throwness, possibility and Fallenness are placed on the horizon of time, which in this video piece is itself then reversed.

‘This will place the viewer in a position in which they do not know whether or not I actually walked forward into the house, of whether I played part of the tape backwards. This will truly demonstrate the idiosyncrasy of time in a visual way.’
(Cornish 2002a, p.36)

One question that arose during the making of this piece was:

‘If I am both where I’ve been and where I’m going , does it matter which way I play the tape?’
(Cornish 2002a, p.36)

It is of interest to note here that in the 13th Century, Dogen, a Buddhist philosopher and Zen master said that because time embraces the past, present and future, there is no reason why it should not proceed forwards or backwards. (Heine, 1983). This may not apply to the physical sequence of events, but does to the experience of such in the present.

One difficulty that presents itself is that of linear time versus non linear time. Heidegger approaches this first by looking at Dasein as that which cannot be less than all the elements and concerns of the person that ‘is being’.

‘When, however, we come to the question of man’s Being, this is not something we can simply compute by adding together those kinds of Being which body soul, and spirit respectively possess.’
(Heidegger 1962, p.74)

Dasein cannot be reduced to body, mind or consciousness because all of these together are part of Dasein. It is this that creates the tension between the view of time as linear and the view of time as non - linear. What happens in Dasein is both linear and non - linear. Events and thoughts for example have a sequential order, but memory and projection draw on times past or futures visualised. All this happens simultaneously, and cannot be separated as one or the other. There is a synchronicity of mind, body, place and circumstances (or ‘fallenness’) Western logic does not readily lend itself to this concept.


At this point it is of interest to look at philosophies and spiritual disciplines that have similarities to Heidegger's ideas. His prior interest in these areas probably influenced his line of thought and use of terminology.


Ancient Wisdom

The pre - Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, the Taoist master, Lao Tzu, and the (Gautama) Buddha are all supposed to have lived around 500 B.C., although the accuracy of this in regards to Lao Tzu is unknown.

Influences from all these sources can be detected in Heidegger’s writings, in particular in regard to ‘dasein’.

Heraclitus, known as the philosopher of ‘flux’ and for his thoughts on the ‘unity of opposites’, wrote numerous documents, most of which no longer exist. There is however a remaining set of Greek writings referred to as (inconsistently numbered) fragments, which are supposed to be his writings as far as history can determine. He is concerned with the principle of the unity of opposites. Heidegger's thoughts on throwness and projection could similarly be viewed as oppositions which are unified in dasein.

In the 1920’s Heidegger attempted to translate the ‘Tao Te Ching’ (writings of Lao Tzu). These writings are part of the early formations of Taoism. The writings address opposites and the way in which they affect each other in terms of the ‘Tao’ or the ‘way’ which is neither and both.

The philosophy of Buddhism is primarily based on the premise that all things are impermanent and the way of being is referred to as the ‘path’. The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (About 150 A.D.) referred to this path as the ‘middle way’, in which phenomena neither exist, nor do not exist. (Feuerstein 2001)

In his Shobogenza (philosophical/ Buddhist writing), Dogen refers to being as time.

‘Time itself is already none other than all beings, beings are none other than time’
(Heine 1983, p.139)

Using the analogy of climbing a mountain, Dogen points out that past present and future are inseparable. This differs in essence from other Buddhist groups who believe that the presence is comprised of tiny moments which arise and pass. There are many ways of thinking.

The Hindus too embrace past present and future as a whole. The sound ‘Om’ (AUM) is a mantra which is said to be the sound of infinity, the unity of birth and death. It is made up of three base notes, ‘A’ which symbolises past, birth and creation; ‘U’ which symbolised presence, balance and preservation; and ‘M’ which symbolises future, death and destruction. The mantra is about everything being a unified whole.

There are three things that happen in Dasein. Firstly, an opposition is set up (throwness and projection), secondly this is in a constant state of flux, and thirdly, what happens between past and future becomes significant and undefinable.

‘The experience of being itself is acknowledged by Buddhists to be beyond language’
(Hart 1994, p.5)

‘Being in Om’ is a work that is set up to create a physical environment in which oppositions become clearly apparent, as the monitors face each other and the mantra ‘Om is heard continuously, but the end is never heard without the beginning, and vice versa. The mouth opening on one monitor mirrors the mouth closing on the opposite monitor.

‘Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;
The difficult and the easy complement each other;
The high and the low incline towards each other;
The long and the short off-set each other;
Note and Sound harmonise with each other;
Before and after follow each other
(Lao Tzu 1963, pp.42-43)


‘Neither future nor past can exist alone’
(Lao Tzu 1993, p.28)

‘Turning back is how the way moves’
(Lao Tzu 1963, p.101)

Hwa Yol Jung went as far as to say that

‘Heidegger’s Being is really the Chinese tao, for which there is no comparable term in Western thought’
(Jung 1987, p.218)

This is rather a sweeping statement, but it certainly appears to be the case that Heidegger’s encounters with Lao Tzu’s writings has a bearing on the orientation of his own work. So too did Heraclitus, two of whose fragments read as follows,

‘The beginning is the end’
(Heraclitus 2001, p.45)

‘All things come out of the one, and the one out of all things’
(Russell 1946, p.60)


On examining the state of flux or ‘becoming’ Heraclitus said,

‘Nothing ever is, everything is becoming’
(Russell 1946, p.64)

Heidegger similarly writes,

‘All is flux. Hence there is no being. All ‘is’ becoming’
(Heidegger 2000, p.102)

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that all is flux, and all is not flux. As soon as language is used, limits are imposed. Using this idea, ‘You Cannot Step into the Same River Twice’ is a piece that has been based on one of Heraclitus’s fragments,

‘You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.’
(Warner 1958, p.26)

This piece was made to demonstrate the impossibility of being fixed in time and how everything is in flux, or is ‘becoming’ all the time. The ‘river past’ and the ‘river future’ just keep on flowing and the viewer is part of this flow. At the same time the word ‘Same’ in this piece creates an opposition in that it is the ‘same’ river and it is not the ‘same’ river. Whether or not Heraclitus’s original writings could be interpreted in this way is not clear. Different languages can be analysed differently. Nevertheless as it stands this parallels the synchronicity of linear and non - linear time. ‘Becoming’ is necessarily ‘both’ simultaneously. It projects itself into the future whilst doing so progressively along the same linear sequence.


Finally, there is something happening between past and present which both ‘is’ and ‘is not’. It is not surprising that ‘dasein’ has been equated with the ‘Tao’. Perhaps it could equally be referred to as the ‘middle way’.

‘The meaning of the word ‘Being’ is the emptiest and thus embraces everything’
(Heidegger 2000, p.80)

The Buddhist Lama Tsongkhapa and Buddhist Master Hua say something similar,

‘Unborn emptiness has let go of the extremes of being and non-being. Thus it is both the centre itself and the central path. Emptiness is the track on which the central person moves.
(Batchelor 1997, p.75)

‘The middle way is neither emptiness nor existence’
(Hua 2001, p.1)

Similarly in Taoism, Chuang Tzu says,

‘The Way cannot be thought of as being, nor can it be thought of as non- being’
(Leaman 2000, p.10)

Lao Tzu compared this to the space within a vessel. It is nothing and something. It has no substance, but its emptiness is something.

‘If you mould a cup you have to make a hollow. It is the emptiness within it that makes it useful.
(Lao Tzu 1993, p.46)

The piece ‘In Time’ was made to bring the viewers attention to ‘now’, and to raise questions about what that means and how it is in time. The piece demonstrates the tension between emptiness and existence as the word ‘now’ never appears, and yet is there all the time because of how we ‘are being’ in terms of Heidegger's ‘Dasein’.

There is no doubt that Heidegger’s ideas in relation to Dasein resonate quite strongly with the disciplines discussed above. The degree to which he has been influenced is unclear. It could be that he was drawn to these areas because of his own orientation.

‘At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless,
Neither from nor towards; at the still point,
there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement,
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
and there is only the dance.’
(Eliot 1969, pp.15-16)



Batchelor, S. (1997) ‘Buddhism Without Beliefs.’ London: Bloomsbury.

Cornish, R. (2002a) ‘Sketchbook 4’ (unpublished)

Cornish, R. (2002b) ‘Concepts of Form Evaluation.’ (unpublished)

Eliot, T.S. (1969) ‘Four Quartets.’ London: Faber.

Feuerstein, G. (2001) ‘The Life of Nargarjuna.’
[WWW]http://www.yrec.org/nagarjuna.html (15/11/02)

Hart, A. (1994) ‘Heidegger’s Oriental Orientation.’

Heidegger, M. (1962) ‘Being and Time.’ (trans. Macquarrie, J. and Robinson, E.) Oxford: Blackwell.

Heidegger, M. (2000) ‘Introduction to Metaphysics.’ (trans. Fried, G. and Polt, R.) Yale University Press.

Heine, S. (1983) ‘Temporality of Hermeneutics in Dogen’s Shobogenzo.’ in ‘Philosophy East and West.’ Volume 33, no. 2, April, pp. 139-147.

Heraclitus (2001) ‘Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus.’(trans. Haxton, B.) New York: Viking.

Hua (2001) ‘Doing It Just Right is the Middle Way.’
[WWW]http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/VenHua/middleway.htm (14/10/2001)

Inwood, M. (1997) ‘Heidegger.’ Oxford University Press.

Jung, H.Y. ‘Heidegger’s Way with Sinitic Thinking’ in Parkes, G. (ed.) (1987) ‘Heidegger and Asian Thought.’ Hawaii University Press.

Leaman, O. (2000) ‘Eastern Philosophy: Key Readings.’ London: Routledge.

Lao Tzu (1963) ‘Tao Te Ching.’ (trans. Lau, D.C.) Reading: Penguin Books.

Lao Tzu (1993) ‘Tao Te Ching.’(trans. Kwok, M.H. et al) Rockport: Element Books

Russell, B. (1946) ‘History of Western Philosophy.’ London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

Warner, R. (1958) ‘The Greek Philosophers.’ New York: Mentor Books.